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By Professor Otis T. Mason, Ph. D., of Virginia, Curator 
U. S. National Museum. 




By Professor Otis T. Mason, Ph. D., of Virginia, Curator 
U. S. National Museum. 

' ' What a plastic little creature man is ! so shifty, so adaptive ! his 
body a chest of tools, and he making himself comfortable in every 
climate, in every condition." — Emerson. 

In this apotheosis of invention and inventors, to me has 
been assigned the pleasing task of leading you back for a few 
moments to the cradle of humanity. Those are happy hours 
to most of us when we recall the days of childhood. To 
trace the lives of celebrated men and women to the springs 
of their moral and intellectual power brings never-fading 
delight. To study the rise and progress of a nation or any 
social unit is worthy of exalted minds. But the most profitable 
inquiry of all is the search for the origin of epoch-making 
ideas in order to comprehend the history of civilization, to 
conjure up those race memories in which each people trans- 
mits to itself and to posterity its former experiences. 

Every invention of any importance is the nursery of future 
inventions, the cradle of a sleeping Hercules. But my task is 
to speak of primitive man and his efforts. 

It will aid us in prosecuting our journey backward to orient 
ourselves with reference to the present. For two days we have 
listened to the eloquent papers of my predecessors, written, to 
glorify the nineteenth century. Through this, faculty of inven- 
tion the whole earth is man's. There is not a ldne island fit 
for his abode whereon some Alexander Selkirk has not made 
a home. Every mineral, plant and animal is so far known 
that a place has been found for it in his Systema Naturce. 
Every creature is subject to man ; the winds, the seas, the 
sunshine, the lightning do his bidding. Projecting his vision 
beyond his tiny planet, this inventing animal has catalogued 
and traced the motion of every star. 

But his crowning glory (which always fills me with admira- 
tion) is his ever-increasing comprehensiveness: 'After cen- 



turies of cultivating acquaintance with the discrete phe- 
nomena around him, he has now striven to coordinate them, 
to mate them organic, to read S3^stem into them. He has 
learned by degrees to comprehend all things as parts of a single 
mechanism. Sir Isaac Newton and Kepler conceived all objects 
and all worlds to be held by universal gravitation. And thus, 
in our century, von Baer and Humboldt taught that the 
world, in all its forces and materials, is an integrated cosmos. 
Any one who is the least familiar with the progress of philos- 
ophy will recall that since the dawn of written history the 
thoughts of men were tending to this unification. Shortly 
after this first effort at comprehensive unity Mayer, Rumford 
and Joule invented the methods of demonstrating the oneness 
of physical forces, the conservation of energy. Wollaston, 
Kirchoff and Bunsen devised the delicate apparatus to prove 
the chemical identity of all worlds. I^amarck, Geoffroy St. 
Hilaire and Darwin taught the consanguinity of all living 
beings. Helmholtz and Meyer coordinated nervous excitation 
with mental activity. Comte and Spencer grasped the unity 
of all sensible phenomena. Newton, L,eibnitz and Hamilton 
projected their minds beyond phenomena and invented mathe- 
matics of four or more dimensions, conceiving of worlds and 
systems that under the present order of nature can have no 
objective reality. Over all this, into many great souls, have 
come the notions of infinite space and time and causation. 
The idea of limitation to thought or achievement no longer 
enters the imagination. The depth of the sea, the distances 
of the stars, the concealment of the earth's treasures, the 
minuteness of the springs of life and sense, the multiplicity 
and complicity of phenomena are only so many incitements to 
greater achievements. The daring souls of this decade are 
determined at any risk to answer the inquiry of Pontius 
Pilate, What is truth ? With sympathetic enthusiasm we wave 
them on, bidding them god-speed. 

But, I ask you now to forget all this and go with me to that 
early day when the first being, worthy to be called man, stood 
upon this earth. How economical has been his endowment. 
There is no hair on his body to keep him warm, his jaws are 
the feeblest in the world, his arm is not equal to that of a go- 


rilla, lie cannot fly like the eagle, lie cannot see into the night 
like the owl, even the hare is fleeter than he. He has no cloth- 
ing, no shelter. ' ' Foxes had holes, and the birds of the air 
had nests, but this man had not where to lay his head." He 
had no tools or industries or experience, no society or lan- 
guage or arts of pleasure, he had yet no theory of life and 
poorer conceptions of the life beyond. 

All nature laughed at him. The sun said, I will blister his 
skin. The storm said, I will spit upon him. The sea said, I 
will drown him. The noxious malaria said, I will parch him 
with fevers. The lion, the wolf, the tiger said, I will 
devour him. The mountain sheep withheld her fleece and 
lambs. The wild ass and the wild horse fled away in scorn. 
The silly fish said, I know you not, and the birds skimmed 
the air around him in mockery. There were no waving grain 
fields, nor golden cornfields, nor tempting vineyards, nor 
fragrant orchards. 

"Poor naked wretches, on the edge of time, 
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm, 
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides defend you 
From seasons such as these ? " 

King Lear, tit, i. 

Whatever we may say of our own golden age, surely his 
was not around him nor above him. If he had one at all it was 
within him. 

"Heaven flowed upon the soul in many dreams of high desire." 

— Tennyson^ "The Poet." 

The road from that condition to our own lies next to the in- 
finite. The one endowment that this creature possessed hav- 
ing in it the promise and potency of all future achievements, 
was the creative spark called invention. The superabundant 
brain over and above all the amount required for mere animal 
existence, held in trust the possibilities of the future, and 
stamped upon man the divine likeness. This naked ignoramus 
is the father of the clothed philosopher, looking out into infin- 
ite space and time and causation. It may give you pleasure 
to know something about the connections between these two 
and the witnesses to these connections. 


There are five guides whose services we have to engage on 
our interesting journey. The first is History, who does not 
know the way very far back — not over three thousand years — 
with much certainty. The second is Philo o&pby, the study of "^J^ 
which in our own century has enabled us to find the cradle- 
land of many peoples. The third is Folk-Lore, the survival of 
belief and custom among the uneducated. The fourth is Arch- 
aeology, history written in things. The fifth is Ethnology, 
which informs us that in describing this arc of civilization some 
races have only marked time, while others have moved with 
radii of varying lengths. The result of this is that we now 
have on the earth types of every sort of culture it has ever 
known. At the present moment, within hailing distance of yon- 
der most beautiful dome in the world dwell all these witnesses 
— the relics of the stone age, the Indian village of Nacochtank 
or Anacostia, the folk-lore of both continents, and the litera- 
tures of the world. While you are listening to the encomiums 
of our decade, palaeolithic man sends in the testimony of his 
handicraft, the Smithsonian Institution treasures the inventions 
of the most primitive races, and the Bureau of Ethnology un- 
ravels the mysteries of savage tongues. 

As the fragment of a speech or song, a waking or a sleeping 
vision, the dream of a vanished hand, a draught of water from 
a familiar spring, the almost perished fragrance of a pressed 
flower, call back the singer, the loved and lost, the loved and 
won, the home of childhood, or the parting hour, so in the 
same manner there linger in this crowning decade of the crown- 
ing century bits of ancient ingenuity which recall to a whole 
people the fragrance and beauty of its past. 

From the testimony of these five witnesses we learn that 
there never was a time when man was not an inventor — never 
a time when he had not some sort of patent on his invention. 
They affirm that every art of living and all the arts of pleasure 
were born in the stone age ; that graphic art, sculpture, archi- 
tecture, painting, music and the drama, had their childish pro- 
totypes in that early day ; that language is one of the very 
earliest of inventions, the vehicle of savage oratory, philosophy 
and science. They affirm that society has been a series of in- 
ventions from the first ; that legislation, justice, government, 


property, exchange, commerce, have not sprung out of the 
ground but within our definition are inventions. And even the 
creeds and cults of mankind, whatever view you may take of 
the divine element underneath them, have been thought out 
and wrought out with infinite pains from time to time by earn- 
est souls. But they had their origin in the cradle-land and in 
the infancy of our race. What we enjoy is only the full-blown 
flower, the perfected fruit of which they possessed the germ. 
I^et me enforce this idea, as we glorify the material prosperity 
of the nineteenth century, that many centuries ago men sat 
down and with great pains and sorrow invented the language, 
the art, the industries, the social order which made our machines 
feasible and desirable. 

There is no conflict between the testimony of these witnesses 
and the doctrine commonly taught that men do not invent 
customs and languages, but fall into them. Reflect a moment 
upon 3 T our own daily life and you will recognize two sets of 
activity, those which you originate and those in which you 
follow suit. Animals can learn to follow suit, and to a very 
limited extent can originate. But it is the divine spark of 
originality which underlies every thought or device in this 
world. As one man invents a machine and others by thousands 
fall into the use of it, as the musician composes a song and 
millions sing it, so was it in the cradle-land of humanity, the 
inventor, touched with fire from the divine altar, set new 
examples to be followed. If we were to interrogate our five 
witnesses particularly with reference to the ancestry, the 
family tree of the notable inventions of the nineteenth century, 
their answer would be somewhat as follows. We ought to 
remember, however, that an invention is not always a thing ; 
but that it may be any series of actions conducing toward some 
new end. Keep in mind, also, that all our activities involve 
tools, processes and products, and that invention may take 
place in any or all of these. 

The ancestor of the steam plow is the digging-stick of 
savagery, a branch of a tree sharpened at the end by fire ; the 
progenitors of the steam harvester and thresher were the stone 
sickle, the roasting-tray, or, later on, the tribulum. 


The cotton gin and power loom are among the wonders of 
our age. Yet in that day of which we are speaking human 
fingers wrought the textile from first to last. They gathered 
the bark or wool, colored them to suit the primitive taste, spun 
and wove them with simple apparatus and left upon the fabric 
patterns that are the despair of all modern machine-makers — 
patterns that are a pleasure to the eye by their infinite variety, 
replaced in modern fabrics by a dreary monotony that awakens 
pain instead of pleasure. 

The first sewing-machine was a needle or bodkin of bone, 
with dainty sinew thread from the leg of the antelope, and for 
thimble a little leather cap over the ends of the fingers. 
Coarse, indeed, the apparatus, but the hand was deft, the eye 
was true, the sense of beauty was there, and so that needle- 
woman of long ago wrought in fur from the mammals, feathers 
from the birds, grasses from the fields, shells from the sea, 
wings from the beetle and skins of snakes, with tasteful geometric 
figures. You do err who think those ancient needlewomen 
had no taste. It would be hard to invent a pattern now that 
was unfamiliar to them. 

The first engine was run by man power, then man subdued 
the horse, the ass, the camel and invented engines for those to 
propel. He next domesticated the winds, the waters, the 
steam, the lightning, but the first common carriers and machine 
power were men and women. The first burden train was 
women's backs ; the first passenger car was a papoose frame. 
And even now, while I am speaking to you, more heavy loads 
are resting on human shoulders than upon all the pack animals 
in the world. Hence our nursery rhyme — 

Rock a by baby on a tree top, 
When the wind blows 
The cradle will rock. 
When the bough bends, 
The cradle will fall. 
Down will come cradle, 
And baby and all. 

The poetry of to-day is the fact of yesterday, the dream of 
yesterday is the fact of to-day. When the savage woman a 
century or two ago, upon this very spot, strapped her dusky 


offspring to a rude frame, hung it upon the nearest sapling for 
the winds to rock, or lifted the unfortunate suckling from the 
ground to which it had been hurled by the bending of an unsafe 
bough, that was a fact, a stage in the history of invention. In 
our now-a-days couches of down, swung from gilded hinges, 
we have got far ahead of the papoose cradle, the memory of 
which we perpetuate in nursery rhymes sung to children, who 
wonder why babies should be hung in the tops of trees and 
think, doubtless, that the falling cradle was a just retribution 
on the silly parents. 

What is more beautiful than an ocean steamer, with skin of 
steel drawn over ribs of steel and closed above against the in- 
trusion of the waves. Have you never seen the picture of the 
Eskimo, still in the stone age, who, over a framework of drift 
wood or whale's rib, stretches a covering of sealskin and learned 
therein to defy the waves hundreds of years ago ? 

Only now and then the angry sky was lighted for the primi- 
tive man by electricity, and even then it filled him with terror. 
But it was he that invented the apparatus for conjuring from 
dried wood, by a rude sort of dynamo, the Promethean spark. 
It was our Aryan ancestors that paid their devotions to the 
rising sun by kindling fresh fire every morning as the orb of 
day flashed his first beam across the earth. 

Who has not read with almost breaking heart the story of 
Paliss3 r , the Huguenot potter. But what have our witnesses 
to say of that long line of humble creatures that conjured out 
of prophetic clay, without wheel or furnace, forms and decora- 
tions of imperishable beauty, which are now being copied in 
glorified material in the best factories of the world ? In ceramic 
as well as in textile art the first inventors were women. They 
quarried the clay, manipulated it, constructed and decorated 
the ware, burned it in a rude furnace and wore it out in a 
hundred uses. 

He had no printing press, but he could tie knots in a 
marvelous fashion and write letters on bark or on bits of raw hide 
and leave memorials of himself in the book of stone. He 
made words and sentences, invented language, developed 
artistic forms of speech handed down to us in the eloquent 


harangues of his sages. He breathed his thoughts in poetry, 
a kind of childish rhythm. 

In the time of which we now are speaking the telegraph was a 
series of signal fires and a marvelous code of signs, which a 
distinguished scholar of our city has just unraveled. 

Primitive man developed the art of war, means of offense 
and defense ; weapons of percussion, for cutting and thrusting ; 
projectiles, armor, fortification, strategy. 

Nowhere has man pressed his hand so effectively upon nature 
as in the domestication of animals. It is almost incredible that 
ravening wolves and merciless felines should become faithful 
dogs and purring cats ; that the wild sheep and goat should 
descend from their inaccessible fastnesses, and yield their fleece 
and flesh and milk ; that horses, asses, camels, elephants, 
should be induced to lend their backs and limbs to lighten the 
loads of the first common carrier. This process of impressing 
his own qualities on wild creatures began very early in history 
and has continued uninterruptedly from first to last. 

In the uncertainty of the marriage relation and of paternity, 
he provided every woman with support and every child with a 
home, through his ingenious gentile system. 

His affairs of state" were managed through his patent sys- 
tem. The great inventors were made the rulers of the people, 
and his highest title to nobility was a most puissant and inge- 
nious one. 

He had courts of justice, heard witnesses, executed his laws. 
It is true that the methods were summary, when a chancery 
suit was settled by an execution on the same day as the death 
of the devisor. But out of his struggles came our methods, 
and the greatest drawback to securing justice now is the survi- 
val of his antiquated customs into our new practices. 

He invented philosophies and sciences, explained the uni- 
verse and himself to himself. This seems puerile now, but it 
was the beginning of all our own speculations, necessary to us 
at present, but which will to-morrow become folk-lore. Over 
and over again, those who preceded me on this platform have 
pointed to James Watt as the true deliverer of mankind. Far be 
it from me to take one leaf from his laurel crown ; but the in- 
ventor of the alphabet, of the decimal system of notation, of 


representative government, of the golden rule in morality, were 
greater than he. 

For the dream in stone and carving and decoration called a 

"Where, through long-drawn aisle and fretted vault, 
The pealing anthem swells the notes of praise," 

that early day has only to offer wild shouts in unison under the 
starlit dome, touched by the first childish aspirations after the 
divine or hopes of immortality. 

While you look with admiration upon these panoramas of 
progress you cannot have failed to observe on the canvas that 
the art, the process of inventing itself, has undergone the very 
same development and improvement as the things invented. 
There is in this a marvelous similarity to the life processes of 
animals and plants. The homogeneous yolk of the egg during 
incubation becomes wonderfully complex and heterogeneous ; 
but all of these diverse parts come together into a higher unity, 
in which each organ ministers to the good of all. The earliest 
invention was a single homogeneous act, an original suggestion, 
a happy thought. The patent on this was an immediate and 
individual benefit. A sharper knife of flint, a better scraper, 
a longer spear, a stouter thread wrought better, and the reward 
was more execution. Now, the man who made the best weapons 
killed the most game, from that game he got better food, that food 
made him stronger, that strength made him chief, that chief- 
taincy gave him more wives, more children, more cohorts to sup- 
port his throne. The best woman to cook or sew or carry loads 
got the best husband; that was her patent. From these simple 
methods of inventing and rewarding invention we come on to the 
Olympic games, the monopolies, the patent system. And now, 
in the inventor's laboratory of Graham Bell or Edison the climax 
is reached, where one machine is the cooperative result of any 
number of trained minds, and the reward is meted out to each by 
the manufacturer; or, in this Patent Congress itself, we may have 
a still more highly organized unit, wherein the inventors of 
America become a body social, and together shake hands under 
the sea with the Emperor of Germany, who sends his congratu- 
lations to-day on the occasion of our meeting. 


We are assembled to glorify the first century of American 
patents. A few months ago the disciples of Daguerre met 
in our city and set up in the National Museum a monument to 
the inventor of photography. I do not know that there is 
another memorial in America to an inventor. There is no 
better way to insure for posterity the recollection of this day 
than by stimulating among the great industries the desire to 
continue this good work of memorializing their founders. Per- 
haps you may not build your monument of stone or bronze, 
you may set up a library, you may solicit a corner in the 
National Museum or Congressional library, or you may secure 
a better Patent building. 

In our public places we set up statues of the destroyers of 
mankind and erect monuments in our national cemeteries to 
the anonymous dead. When we go to hang garlands upon 
the eulogium-bearing tombs, we do not forget to scatter flowers 
upon the mausoleum of the unknown. 

We cannot gather from the four corners of the world the 
bones of all the great inventors and honor them with a costly 
burial. Even their names have perished from the records of 
mankind, but their works endure. What better can we do 
than to gather these 1 and guard them in our great museums, 
mute witnesses of antiquated arts. I can imagine these anony- 
mous inventors looking upon us to-day and glad of this tardy 
recognition of their vicarious sufferings. 

With loving recollection of your labors I pluck a flower 
from my heart and strew its petals over your neglected graves : 

" In freta dumfhivii current, dum montibus umbra 
lustrabunt convexa, polus dum sidera pascet, 
semper honos nomenque tuum laudesque manebunt, 
quae me cumque vocant terrse." Aneid i, 607. 



By John S. Busings, M. D., Surgeon U. S. A., Curator, United 
States Army Medicae Museum. 

In connection with this celebration of a century's work of 
the American Patent System, I have been requested by the 
Advisor}' Committee to prepare a brief paper upon inventions 
and discoveries in medicine, surgery and practical sanitation, 
with special reference to the progress that has been made in 
this country in these branches of science and art. 

It would be impossible to present on this occasion such a 
summary as would be of any special interest or use, of the pro- 
gress which has been made in medicine and sanitation during 
the century, either by the world at large or by American 
physicians and sanitarians in particular ; and I shall therefore 
confine my remarks mainly to the progress which has been 
made in these branches in connection with mechanical inven- 
tions and new chemical combinations devised by American 
inventors — which will require much less time. 

The application of the patent system to medicine in this 
country has had its advantages for certain people, has given 
employment to a considerable amount of capital in production 
(and to a much larger amount in advertising), has contributed 
materially to the revenues of the government, and has made a 
great deal of work for the medical profession. 

So far as I know, but one complete system of medicine has 
been patented in this country, and that was the steam, Cayenne 
pepper and lobelia system — commonly known as Thomsonian- 
ism — to which a patent was granted in 1836. The right to 
practice this system, with a book describing the methods, was 
sold by the patentee for twenty dollars, and perhaps some of 
you may have some reminiscences of it connected with your 


boyish days. I am certain I shall never forget the effects of 
"Composition Powder," or of "Number Six," which was 
essentially a concentrated tincture of Cayenne pepper, and 
one dose of which was enough to make a boy willing to go to 
school for a month. 

From a report made by the Commissioner of Patents in 1849, 
it appears that eighty-six patents for medicines had been 
granted up to that date ; but the specificatons of most of those 
issued before 1836 had been lost by fire. The greater number 
of patents for medicines were issued between 1850 and i860. 
The total number of patents granted for medicines during the 
last decade (1880-1890) is 540. r 

This, however, applies only to ' ' patent medicines, ' ' properly 
so-called, the claims for which are, for the most part, presented 
by simple-minded men who know very little of the ways of the 
world. A patent requires a full and unreserved disclosure of 
the recipe, and the mode of compounding the same, for the 
public benefit when the term of the patent shall have expired ; 
and the Commissioner of Patents may, if he chooses, require 
the applicant to furnish specimens of the composition and of its 
ingredients, sufficient in quantity for the purpose of experiment. 
The law, however, does not require the applicant to furnish 
patients to be experimented on, and this may be the reason 
why the Commissioner has never demanded samples of the 
ingredients. By far the greater number of the owners of pana- 
ceas and nostrums are too shrewd to thus publish their secrets, 
for they can attain their purpose much better under the law 
for registering trade-marks and labels, designs for bottles and 
packages, and copyrights of printed matter, which are less 
costly, and do not reveal the arcanum. 

These proprietary medicines constitute the great bulk of 
what the public call ' ' patent medicines. ' ' 

The trade in patent and secret remedies has been, and still is, 
an important one. We are a bitters-and-pill-taking people ; in 
the fried pork and salasratus biscuit regions the demand for 
such medicines is unfailing, but everywhere they are found. I 

1 For these figures, and other data used in this paper I am indebted to 
m3' friend Mr. H. H. Bates, Chief Examiner in the Patent Office. 


suppose the chief consumption of them is by women and chil- 
dren — with a fair allowance of clergymen, if we may judge 
from the printed testimonials. I sampled a good many of them 
myself when I was a boy. Of course, these remarks do not 
apply to bitters. One of the latest patents is for a device to 
wash pills rapidly down the throat. 

According to the Census of 1880 there were in the United 
States 592 establishments devoted to the manufacture of drugs 
and chemicals, the capital invested being $28,598,458, and the 
annual value of the product $38,173,658, while there were 563 
establishments devoted to the manufacture of patent medicines 
and compounds, the capital invested being $10,620,880, and 
the value of the product $14, 682, 494. 2 

A patent automatic doctor, on the principle of ' ' put a quar- 
ter in the slot and take out the pill which suits your case," 
has been proposed, but this patent is said to be of Dutch and 
not of American origin. The idea of this may have come 
from Japan, for an old medicine case from that country which 
I possess, has four compartments filled with pills, and the 
label says that those in the first compartment are good for all 
diseases of the head, those in the second for all diseases of the 
body, those in the third for all diseases of the limbs, and those 
in the fourth are a sure vermifuge. 

From the commercial and industrial point of view the great 
importance of patent and proprietary medicines is connected 
with advertising. The problem is to induce people to pay 
twenty-five cents for the liver-encouraging, silent-perambulat- 
ing, family pills, which cost three cents. Some day I hope that 
the modern professional expert in advertising will favor us with 
his views as to the nature and character of those people who 
were induced to buy Jones's liver pills or Slow's specific by 
means of a huge display of these names on the sides and roofs of 
barns and outbuildings, which display forms such a prominent 
feature in many of our American landscapes, as seen by the 
traveler on the railway. I suppose there must be such peo- 
ple, for I have a high estimate of the business shrewdness of 
the men who pay for these abominations. I should also like 

2 See the Lancet, October 5, 1889, p. 683. 


to know how much a farmer gets for allowing his buildings to 
be thus defaced. He must be hard-up ; indeed such a displa}^ 
indicates that the place is probably mortgaged and that the 
poor man is heavily in debt. 

Even the soap advertisers are not as guilty as the nostrum- 
makers in this particular st)de of nuisance, although they far 
exceed the latter in viciousness when it comes to applying art 
to ignoble purposes. The connection between progress in 
medicine and soap advertisements may not be clear to you, 
but it exists nevertheless, for many of these soaps make work 
for the doctors by producing skin troubles. 

Upon the whole, I should think that the number of people 
who would take some trouble to avoid purchasing an article 
which is thus advertised must be rapidly increasing, so that 
such displays will soon be no longer profitable. The great 
importance of advertising does not relate to the placard or 
chromo business, but to its relations to periodical literature — 
to the daily and weekly press and the monthly magazines and 

To the establishment and support of some of our news- 
papers and journals, medical as well as others, these pro- 
prietary and secret medicines, cosmetics, food preparations, 
etc., have no doubt contributed largely. 

I am sorry to say that I have been unable to obtain definite 
information as to the direct benefits which inventions of this 
kind have conferred on the public in the way of the cure of 
disease or preventing death. Among the questions which 
were not put in the schedules of the last census were the follow- 
ing, nainely : Did you ever take any patent or proprietary 
medicine ? If so, what and how much, and what was the 
result ? Some very remarkable statistics would no doubt have 
been obtained had this inquir} 7 been made. I can only say 
that I know of but four secret remedies which have been really 
valuable additions to the resources of practical medicine, and 
the composition of all these is now known. These four are 
all powerful and dangerous, and should only be used on the 
advice of a skilled physician. Most of such remedies have 
little value as curative agents, and some of them are prepared 


and purchased almost exclusively for immoral or criminal 

In France the sale of secret and patent medicines is not 
allowed unless they have been examined and approved by the 
National Academy of Medicine, and the same general rule 
holds good in Italy and Spain. 

The Japanese have followed the French method, and their 
experience is interesting. The Central Sanitary Bureau estab- 
lished a public laboratory for the analysis of chemicals as a 
medicine. The proprietors of each of such medicines were 
bound to present samples, and the names and proportions of the 
ingredients, directions for its use and explanations of its sup- 
posed efficacy. According to a report in the British Medical 
Journal, during the first year there were 11,904 applicants for 
license to prepare and sell 148,091 patent and secret medicines. 
Permission for the preparation and sale of 58,638 different 
kinds were granted, 8,592 were prohibited, 9,918 were ordered 
to be discountenanced, and 70,943 remained to be reported on. 
The great majority of those which were authorized were of no 
efficacy, but few being remedial agents ; but their sale was not 
prohibited, as they were not found to be dangerous to the 
health of the peopled I do not vouch for these figures, which 
throw our records entirely in the shade. 

In 1849 a special committee of the House of Representatives 
reported to the House a bill to prevent the patenting of medi- 
cines, accompanied by a report. This bill provided that after 
the passage of the act letters-patent shall not be granted for 
any article whatever as a medicine, provided that this shall not 
apply to machines, instruments or apparatus. When the matter 
came before the House for consideration the bill was laid on 
the table. 4 

You are all aware that the great majority of the medical 
profession consider it to be improper and discreditable for a 
physician to patent a remedy. The Medical Code of Ethics 
declares that it is derogatory to professional character " for a 
physician to hold a patent for any surgical instrument or medi- 

3 British Medical Journal, July 3, 1880, vol. ii, p. 24. 

4 Congressional Globe, March 3, 1849, P- 697. 


cine ; or to dispense a secret nostrum whether it be the com- 
position or exclusive property of himself or others. For if 
such nostrum be of real efficacy, any concealment regarding it 
is inconsistent with beneficence and professional liberality ; and 
if mystery alone give it value and importance, such craft im- 
plies either disgraceful ignorance or fraudulent avarice. It is 
also reprehensible for physicians to give certificates attesting 
the efficacy of patent or secret medicines, or in any way to pro- 
mote the use of them." Like all legislation, this is a formal 
declaration of the customs of the profession, which customs 
are of great antiquit}'. The principle upon which it is founded 
is thus expressed by Lord Bacon : "I hold every man a debtor 
to his profession ; from the which, as men of course do seek to 
receive countenance and profit, so ought they of duty to 
endeavor themselves by way of amends to be a help and 
ornament thereunto. ' ' 

The rule, however, is not always adhered to by pl^sicians, 
the most notable exception having been, perhaps, the use of 
Koch's lymph before its composition was revealed. As regards 
the patenting of surgical instruments and apparatus, the opinion 
of the great- majority of physicians is in accordance with the 
rule just stated, but there are some who question its propriety, 
although they obey it — and there are few who would not use 
a patented instrument in a case to which they thought it was 

The total number of surgical instruments and appliances 
patented during the past decade has been about 1,200, the 
patents having been in almost all cases taken out by manufac- 
turers. With these may be classed dentists' tools and appa- 
ratus, of which about 500 have been patented during the last 
ten 3^ears, and in this field of invention the United States leads 
the world. The same may be said with regard to artificial 
limbs, of which our great war gave rise to many varieties. 

As you know, the law prescribes that a patent may be given 
for a "new and useful art, machine, manufacture or composi- 
tion of matter." I used to think that the word "useful" in 
this law had its ordinary meaning, and, therefore, wondered 
exceeding^ as to why the Patent Office examiners allowed 
patents to certain things which came under my notice. One 


da}', however, I received an article from the Patent Office, with 
the request for a report as to whether it was useful in the sense 
in which that word was used by the Office, namefy , ' ' not per- 
nicious or prejudicial to public interests — capable of being 
used ' ' — and then for the first time I understood one of the first 
principles of the patent law of the United States, that is, that 
it does not take into consideration the degree of utility in the 
device, or, in other words, that "useful" means "harmless." 

If a patent is granted to a medicine, it must be as a composi- 
tion of matter as a special article of manufacture. The prac- 
tice of the Patent Office in these matters is not generally under- 
stood. It does not now consider that medical prescriptions are 
inventions within the meaning of the law, or that a mere aggre- 
gation of well-known remedies to obtain a cumulative effect is 
a patentable composition of matter. A certain number of claims 
for in the form of patents or trade-marks 
are made for medical compounds or for apparatus, under false 
pretences; that is to say, the claim is for a new remedy for rheu- 
matism or dyspepsia or displacement, with a warning against 
their use under certain conditions, the real design being that 
they are to be used under precisely these conditions in order to 
procure abortion, etc. These are sometimes difficult cases for 
the Patent Office to treat properly, for the law does not allow 
a large discretion for refusal on mere suspicion, and where there 
is ostensible and possible utility (in the Patent Office sense) it 
can hardly reject the claim on the ground that the invention 
might be used for immoral purposes. 

I said in the beginning that I cannot on this occasion give 
any sufficient account of the progress of invention and discovery 
in medicine and sanitation during the century just gone. The 
great step forward which has been made, has been the estab- 
lishment of a true scientific foundation for the art upon the dis- 
coveries made in physics, chemistry, and biology. One hun- 
dred years ago the practice of medicine, and measures to pre- 
serve health, so far as these were really efficacious, were in the 
main empirical — that is, certain effects were known to usually 
follow the giving of certain drugs, or the application of certain 
measures, but why or how these effects were produced was un- 


known. They sailed then 03' dead-reckoning, in several senses 
of this phrase. 

Since then not only have great advances been made by a con- 
tinuance of these empirical measures in treatment, but we have 
learned much as to the mechanism and functions of different 
parts of the body, and as to the nature of the causes of some of 
the most prevalent and fatal forms of disease ; and, as a conse- 
quence, can apply means of prevention or treatment in a much 
more direct and definite way than was formerly the case. For 
example, a hundred years ago nothing was known of the 
difference between typhus and typhoid fevers. We have now 
discovered that the first is a disease propagated largely by 
aerial contagion and induced or aggravated by over-crowding, 
the preventive means being isolation, light and fresh air ; 
while the second is due to a minute vegetable organism, a 
bacillus, and is propagated mainly by contaminated water, 
milk, food and clothing ; and that the treatment of the two 
diseases should be very different. 

'The most important improvements in practical medicine 
made in the United States have been chiefly in surgery, in its 
various branches. We have led the way in the ligation of 
some of the larger arteries, in the removal of abdominal tumors, 
in the treatment of diseases and injuries peculiar to women, in 
the treatment of spinal affections and of deformities of various 
kinds. Above all, we were the first to show the uses of anaes- 
thetics — the most important advance in medicine made during 
the century. In our late war we taught Europe how to build, 
organize and manage military hospitals ; and we formed the 
best museum in existence illustrating modern military medicine 
and surgery. Our contributions to medical literature have 
been many and valuable ; and our government possesses the 
largest and best working medical library in the world. We 
have more doctors and more medical schools, in proportion to 
the population, than any other country, and while this is not 
good evidence of progress, I am glad to be able to say that the 
standard of acquirements in medical education has been, and 
is now rising, and our leading medical schools are now being 
equipped with buildings, with apparatus, with laboratories, 


and most important of all, with brains, which enable them to 
give means of practical instruction equal to any to be found 

As regards preventive public medicine and sanitation, we 
have not made so many valuable contributions to the world's 
stock of knowledge — chiefly because, until quite recently, we 
have not had the stimulus to persistent effort which comes 
from density of population and its complicated relation to 
sewage disposal and water supplies ; nor have we had the in- 
formation relative to localized causes of disease and death, 
which is the essential foundation of public hygiene, and which 
can only be obtained by a proper system of vital statistics. 
We can, however, show enough and to spare of inventions in 
the way of sanitary appliances, fixtures and systems for house 
drainage, sewerage, etc. ; for the ingenuity of inventors has 
kept pace with the increasing demands for protection from the 
effects of the decomposition of waste matters, as increase of 
knowledge has made these known to us. The total number of 
patents granted for sanitary appliances during the last decade 
(18S0-1890) is about 1,175. If good fixtures necessarily in- 
volve good plumbing work, we could easily make our houses 
safe so far as drainage is concerned ; but a leaky joint or a 
tilted trap makes the best appliance worthless. The im- 
pulse to improvements in this direction has come mainly from 
England, where most of the principles of good work of this 
kind have been developed ; but we have devised some details 
better adapted to our climate and modes of construction, and 
while many of the patent traps and sewer-gas excluders are 
only useful in the patent law sense, and some not even in that, 
it is nevertheless true that the safety, accessibility and good 
appearance of plumber's work has been largely increased 
during the last few years by patented inventions. Much the 
same may be said with regard to heating appliances, including 
ventilating stoves and fireplaces, radiators, etc., but I am 
unable to express any enthusiasm with regard to what are 
commonly called patent ventilators. 

Xo doubt the greatest progress in medical science during the 
next few years will be in the direction of prevention, and to 


this end mechanical and chemical invention and discovery 
must go hand in hand with increase in biological and medical 
knowledge. Neither can afford to neglect or despise the 
other, and both are working for the common good. If the 
American patent system has not given rise to any specially 
valuable inventions in practical medicine or in theology, it 
must be due to the nature of the subjects, and not to any fault 
of the system. 


G a y 


^^ Syrocose, N. Y. 
Stockton, Calif. 



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